Saturday, March 23, 2019
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The Tunica Times • P.O. Box 308/986 Magnolia Street, Tunica, MS 38676

How the state made a lawbreaker out of a gray-headed old lady

Call me Linda.

No, wait – I’m going before Chancellor Jon Barnwell this week in Clarksdale to legally change my name to Brooks Nickles Taylor.

This year, on May 5, I turned 65 years old. Old enough to receive a Medicare card. I started drawing my Social Security this spring. That ought to be why I remember 2018. But it’s not. Instead, this will be seared in my memory as the year that I – after having a driver’s license for 50 years, and incidentally, having an almost sterling driving record with the State of Mississippi – have now been driving around since the last day of May with no legal driver’s license.

My “crime?”

I want to be called by my middle name – Brooks – and not by my first name, Linda. And the State of Mississippi is refusing to renew my driver’s license under the name I have been known by my whole life!

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Here’s how this started:

The Sunday after my birthday on May 5, I go grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly here. I want to pay for my purchases as I customarily do, with a personal check. I present my driver’s license to the cashier. She takes it and takes my check but asks me if I know my license has expired. No, I hadn’t given it a thought, which is fairly understandable, I think, since it was last renewed four years ago and there is never a reminder from the state in advance of the expiration.

So, the next morning, I log on to the Department of Public Safety’s web site and start the process to renew online. I am sailing through (should have known it was going too well), until I get to the part where you have to pay. The online system refuses to go any further. I get an unspecified error message.

I consider myself computer literate, since I use one every day in my work. But my computers at work are Macs, and it’s a PC world. Not every website plays well with Apple computers. So I think (from long experience) that their web site perhaps kicked out my renewal because it did not like my Mac at that particular moment. I try again that afternoon. Same result.

I try again the next day and the next. Again, no luck. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, I have finished the newspaper for that week and I have a few free moments. I find an office number for DPS and I call.

The woman who answers sends me to another person. I explain. From her end, she can look and see that I have tried to renew online. First, she tells me I should not have tried multiple times.

“It’s locked out because you tried five times,” she says.

“Okay,” I say, properly chastened, “what do I do now?”

“You can go to a kiosk or in person to renew.”

Then she asks me whether I renewed online last time. I don’t remember. I think I went to the kiosk here in Tunica, but she checks something else and tells me I did indeed renew online four years ago and this time I must go to a kiosk or one of the examining stations. Mind you, it doesn’t say that anywhere on the website. Oh, wait, it does say that in the “Frequenty Asked Questions” section, but you have to look hard for it.

After finding out this very valuable information, the next day I try the kiosk that is just down the street from where I work. At first, all is going well. The machine takes my new photograph (awful, as usual), and I am quickly ready to pay. Uh oh, an error message, again with no specific reason that my attempt has failed. I do get a paper receipt that shows I tried, however.

Gritting my teeth, I now know I will have to go to the Nesbit station. I leave my house in Tunica early the next day and get there about two minutes after 8. There is already a line out the door, but it doesn’t take long before I am inside and sitting down in the waiting area with a number in my hand. About 45 minutes later, that number gets called, and the pleasant lady behind the counter and I start the whole process. I get my photo made and I am ready to pay, when her computer suddenly rejects my application. After several questions from her and answers from me, she determines that my name in their system and as it is listed in Social Security’s database does not match, vaguely indicating this has something to do with Homeland Security and something called “Real ID.” She then tells me to go to the Social Security office (nearest one is in Olive Branch) and change my name to match how it is shown on my driver’s license.

A caveat: when I got my very first driver’s license in 1968, the State of Mississippi itself required me to use the name Linda Nickles. Years later, the state kindly allowed me to add Brooks to my license, so to them, I am Linda Brooks Taylor.

When I protest that I have gone by the name “Brooks N.(Nickles) Taylor” since my marriage 44 years ago and that further, I have just started receiving my Social Security and Medicare coverage, both under the name Brooks N. Taylor, she tells me that does not matter - that I must be “Linda Brooks Taylor” since that is the way the State lists me and has issued my driver’s license.

Thinking that this is too bizarre to be true, the next week my husband and I drive to the Batesville station, where I explain to the clerk what is happening each time. He confirms what the Nesbit clerk has told me, but tells me I can call his supervisor and gives me that phone number.

My husband calls the number and a man answers. We start our explanations, but this man is at his dentist’s office and gives us the name and number of a woman he says can help us. We call, she answers, we go through the whole thing again, and incredibly, she very patiently and kindly explains that yes, my names must match; no, the state won’t change it in their system; and yes, I will have to change it with SSA, unless I want to have my name legally changed.

Since I have by now in hand all the documents that prove I have been Brooks Taylor for a long, long time, including a letter from SSA and my expired passport, I am loath to tamper with what has gotten me this far in life.

That is why I am petitioning in Chancery Court, at age 65, to change my name to what my name has been all along. Goodbye, Linda, forever, I hope, and hello, Brooks N. Taylor.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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